Florence Arthaud, the little girl of the Atlantic

On Wednesday 1 November 2023, the biopic “Flo” was unveiled in cinemas. Retracing the life of renowned yachtswoman Florence Arthaud, the film is an opportunity to look back at the career of a woman who left an indelible mark on the history of the sport.


The first woman to win the Route du Rhum, Florence Arthaud was immersed in the maritime world from an early age. It was with her family, her father and her brother, that she began sailing. In 1974, at the age of 17, she was involved in a terrible car accident, which left her in hospital for six months following a coma and paralysis. It took her two years to make a full recovery.


But this tragedy did not discourage the young woman. At the age of 18, she embarked on her first Atlantic crossing with navigator Jean-Claude Parisis. Just four years later, in 1978, she took part in the Route du Rhum, the legendary single-handed transatlantic sailing race held every four years. It was the first of many races for this adventurer of the seas. And although she finished 11th in the rankings, her motivation and sailing skills stood out from the outset.


Florence Arthaud, legend of the waves


Four years after embarking on her first Route du Rhum, she tried her luck again but finished 20th in 1982, then 11th in 1986. And it wasn’t until 1990 that her dream came true.



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In 14 days, 10 hours and 10 minutes, Florence Arthaud won the Route du Rhum aboard the trimaran Pierre 1er. She was the first woman to achieve this feat. Her nickname of “the little girl of the Atlantic” was born, symbolising her success on the waves.


1990 was a prosperous year for the yachtswoman, who also beat the record for the single-handed North Atlantic crossing, in 9 days, 21 hours and 42 minutes.


In 1997, the skipper won the Transpacific as part of Bruno Peyron’s crew. Several races followed, including the double-handed Transat Lorient-Saint-Barth and the Odyssée Cannes-Istanbul.



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But this remarkable career has not been without its pitfalls. In 2011, Florence Arthaud almost died when she fell from her boat between Cape Corsica and the island of Elba. Rescued more than an hour later in a state of hypothermia, she knows she is a miracle worker.


An assertive feminist in a man’s world, the author of her autobiography, a mother… Florence Arthaud’s life had been rich in events. But the yachtswoman died in a helicopter crash while filming the TF1 programme Dropped on 9 March 2015.


“Flo”, a film about Florence Arthaud



Directed by Géraldine Danon, “Flo” traces the incredible destiny of Florence Arthaud, played by Stéphane Caillard. Highlighting her sporting achievements, the film “inspired” by the life of the yachtswoman was released in cinemas yesterday, Wednesday 1 November 2023. It remains to be seen whether it will be a success worthy of the woman to whom it pays tribute…




Featured photo:  Jean-Yves Ruszniewski | © Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

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